Mark Facebook thinks augmented and virtual reality are so critical to humanity’s next stage of collective… digi-evolution that he just changed his name to Mark Meta, dialed his emotion chip all the way up to… 2, and went very publicly Wreck ‘Em Ralphing through a range of absolutely uncanny experiences… from gaming to gathering to meetings to… well, thankfully not matings. But you get the idea. After having missed out on owning mobile, and consequently having his apps subject to the privacy policies of iOS and the constant intermediation of Android, he simply doesn’t want anyone, any… thing, coming between his Oculus-fronted Horizon harvesters and our data… all of our data.
But, according to Morgan Stanley, Tim Apple’s own VR & AR projects are getting ready for liftoff, and they’re likely to leapfrog what every other company, including Meta has in mind.
Now, I think Morgan Stanley’s has gotten a quad major part of this story just completely wrong here, but I’ll get to that in a second. Because the instant Facebook bought Oculus, my first thought was — well, Facebook in my browser, I can kill the tab any time. Facebook on my phone, I can kill the app. They’re only ever one quick click or flick from out of our lives. But Facebook on my literal face… a Face-hugger-book, so to speak… well, that’s not so easy to kill. Likewise, App Tracking Transparency, Privacy Labels and Reports, Private Relay, everything I spoke about in my last video, everything that can prevent Facebook from creeping on me through my Apple products. Because Oculus is a Facebook product, and you better believe they’re not offering us any of that. No, owning the platform means they own everything. Including everything we do on the platform. No matter how personal, how private. It’s data harvesting… god mode. That’s why Meta, nee Facebook, is seemingly willing to give the headsets away for close to cost. They’re not the product, as the saying goes.
Just get Quest II and future hardware into as many hands and onto as many heads as possible, as cheaply and quickly as possible, and then backfill all the software and services on top of it. Like… I think someone called it AOL in 3D… Ask your parents. Anyway, that way, all the connections we make feed their social graph, all the actions we take train their behavioral profiles, all the things we buy get tracked and taxed by their marketplace, and all the things we see get overlayed with their ads. Oh, hey, look, honey, hanging over our kids school, paper towels are 50% off... with proof of conspiracy theory! Woohoo! Sorry. Kinda.
All so that they can own that next evolution of the internet — what Facebook is calling the Metaverse. Which, swear to Jobs,
Sounds like revenge branding from the cringe marketer who failed to make Cyberspace at all popular… like three years after going online stopped being even remotely nerd chic.
Now, Apple’s plan… Apple’s plan is almost the exact opposite of Facebook’s. No new company names, no CEO in Wonderland videos, and absolutely no VR or AR headsets or glasses, not yet. It’s been more of a slow software and frameworks burn. Because Apple can get all of that out and test driven by those billion plus iPhones in our pockets and iPads in our backpacks, y’all.
That is, if Apple doesn’t totally screw the landing, the way they did last time, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Because they already have ARKit, their beyond solid augmented reality framework, and more recently, Object Capture, which lets you easily scan IRL objects into virtual ones, and share their USDZ files as easily as… animated JIF GIFs. Those are the obvious bits. The critical components for getting everyone from developers to creators on board… hell, pre-boarded.
But Apple isn’t just priming the power users, they’re boiling the mainstream as well.
Making an avatar for VR or AR may seem weird or awkward, unless you’ve already spent the last 5 years playing with increasingly sophisticated Memoji, and are well past being perfectly comfortable with your own digital self.
Having the world around you constantly ingested and understood by computer vision might seem disorienting even off-putting, if you hadn’t had LiDAR on your iPad or iPhone, or played with any of Apple’s event or product demos.
Watching a TV Show or movie or sporting event or concert in a virtual theater might feel lonely or isolated, if you hadn’t already tried it out through SharePlay with your friends and family. Except, instead of being PiP’ed onto each-other’s screens, you’re sitting next to each other in the virtual theater, in all your memoji glory. Snacking on real popcorn though, because the virtual kernels taste like ozone. Just trust me on that.
And instead of FaceTime Group Calls in Brady Bunch Boxes, sorry, Insta Grids, we’re all Memoji’d around virtual tables or picnic blankets or whatever, with spatial audio making it sound like we’re exactly where we look like we are.
Even Live Text and object recognition, and yeah, I’m just running the board on the last couple of year’s of WWDC announcements now, but even Live text and object recognition are all about bringing really real reality into the virtual and augmented one, the computational one, where we can act on them, riff on them even.
And the list just goes on and on and on.
But here’s where I think Morgan Stanley got it wrong — VR and AR aren’t a product, and certainly not a singular one. They’re a human interface, like screens, and they’ll exist across a range of products, like screens do across Macs, and iPhones, and Apple Watches. There’ll be overlap, for sure, but the VR headset is going to start off as a… next generation of Apple TV, all about experience and immersion, where the AR Glasses are going start off like a next generation Apple Watch and AirPods, all about enhancement and convenience.
The VR headset comes first, just like the Apple TV came first, because the tech is just much closer to a solved problem than the AR glasses. And it’ll be expensive at first. Especially if rumors of ultra-high-density, 8K displays, and M2 Pro Max class chipsets pan out, with all the scanners and sensors imaginable baked in, if any of those rumors are true. $2K, $3K, whatever.
It’s an early adopter play. Something for people who’d much rather pay MacBook Pro-level prices for a bleeding edge personal display than a couple hundred bucks and change for a shared living room box. But like every Apple product, the early and premium versions help pay down the technology so Apple can push it down to the more popular and mainstream versions.
But here’s the key — it’ll also let Apple move all the existing services, everything they’ve gotten primed and ready from the Apple TV to the… Apple Vision headset or whatever they end up calling it. Not just TV+ shows, but Fitness+ with SharePlay for group workouts. Apple Music concerts. Apple Arcade arena games, and everything from every entertainment, and education, and health and fitness, and game developer and studio on the iOS App Store who wants to be part of the rOS App Store.
Which, yes, Apple can’t afford to screw up the way they did the tvOS App Store, with the absolutely stupefying last-minute mandate that everyone had to use the Siri remote and On-Demand Resources, causing every major studio to hit the breaks on their iPhone-good-will fueled plans from the platform and just wait and see… the wait causing there to be nothing to see. It’s an own-goal the Apple TV still hasn’t recovered from, and if you want to see a video on that debacle, just let me know in the comments.
Either way, any way, hopefully, just all the lessons learned by now. Because Facebook is going for the commodity hardware play, has network effect on their side, every big blue, Insta, WhatsApp, and Messenger user in their pockets, and will likely be paying through Mark’s positronic nose for content and creator deals. They’re going to go all out. Microsoft too, because they had mobile and lost it. And Google who no doubt wants to keep the position they have with Android every bit as much as Apple wants to keep the one they have with iOS. Maybe even Amazon, because we all know they love their… interestingly shaped hardware.
But the truth is, Metaverse, like Web 3.0, is in its very nascent, most molten of tech nerd and grifter-fueled states right now, and it’s probably not going to end up being anything like what the hustlers and dreamers want to sell us all now. Just like the iPhone and Android made the internet mobile, and that created the opportunity for everything from WeChat to Uber to TikTok to Pokémon Go to VoiceOver, this all will simply make the internet virtual, and that’ll create the opportunity for everything that comes next.